Studies dealing with community similarity are necessary to understand large scale ecological processes causing biodiversity loss and to improve landscape and regional planning. Here, we study landscape variables influencing patterns of community similarity in fragmented and continuous forest landscapes in the Atlantic forest of South America, isolating the effects of forest loss, fragmentation and patterns of land use. Using a grid design, we surveyed birds in 41 square cells of 100 km(2) using the point count method. We used multivariate, regression analyses and lagged predictor autoregressive models to examine the relative influence of landscape variables on community similarity. Forest cover was the primary variable explaining patterns of bird community similarity. Similarity showed a sudden decline between 20 and 40% of forest cover. Patterns of land use had a second order effect; native bird communities were less affected by forest loss in landscapes dominated by tree plantations (the most suitable habitat for native species) than in landscapes dominated by annual crops or cattle pastures. The effects of fragmentation were inconclusive. The trade-off between local extinctions and the invasion of extra-regional species using recently created habitats is probably the mechanism generating the observed patterns of community similarity. Limiting forest loss to 30-40% of the landscape cover and improving the suitability of human-modified habitats will contribute to maintain the structure and composition of the native forest bird community in the Atlantic forest.
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